The 2017-18 Sharks are a team that confounds the punditocracy

The 2017-18 Sharks are a team that confounds the punditocracy

The National Hockey League has stealthily crept up upon us and has finally landed, beginning its new season with four games, including a historically monumental matchup between the Philadelphia Flyers and San Jose Sharks.

And yes, that is sarcasm.

But it is also an apt opener because San Jose is a difficult team to figure under any circumstances. They are 15 months removed from their only Stanley Cup Final appearance but three months removed from a tepid first round chase-out by the Edmonton Oilers. They went from being a difficult counterpuncher to a good example of old-school hockey, skated into puddles by a younger, faster team just learning how good it can be.

Put another way, Edmonton hosts Calgary Wednesday in a game most hockey fans will find far more compelling.

The difference is that Edmonton has Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl and an army of other younger and more intrepid players, while the Sharks are making a more concerted but still difficult transition from a largely veteran team to a younger faster one. And that is trying to be created despite the fact that their most important players are north of 30.

Toward that end, the Sharks need bounce-back years from most of their forwards, given that they finished a dull 19th in offense and a disastrous 25th on the power play. Their defense has never been deeper or better based on its 2017 performance, but things have a way of bouncing up and down year to year in all hockey areas, so the Sharks need as much from Timo Meier and Tomas Hertl and Kevin Labanc as from Joe Pavelski and Joe Thornton and Logan Couture.

They also need a better season from goalie Martin Jones. Better, as in centerpiece – if San Jose’s offense does not improve, his reputation as a solid goalie will have to inch closer to Carey Price/Sergei Bobrovsky/Braden Holtby levels. Jones was fine enough last year, and clearly was the best player the Sharks had in their Edmonton series, but his save percentages (.918 and .912 as a Shark) need to improve above .920 if he is to become a more bonafide game-stealer.

Finally, the Sharks need to rekindle a fan base that has found more ways to skip games than attend them. The home-ice advantage they have always boasted improved last year after a few years of aggressive meh-itude (though they were 26th the year they got to the Final), and they got the typical Cup-Final bump, but the year before they dipped below 17,000 in attendance and the impression is that the fan base needs more stimulation than just opening the doors.

San Jose is a team that confounds the punditocracy – some think they have too much pride to fade from relevance, while others see the game changing without them. But after years of being the team everyone loved to pump up and then be disappointed by, they are now a blank slate for all involved, capable of much and yet little depending on how you choose to examine them.

Maybe they confuse even themselves.

Sharks headed in right direction, road trip to reveal who they really are


Sharks headed in right direction, road trip to reveal who they really are

The difference between a 2-3-0 start and a 1-4-0 start is bigger than two standings points.

The former is far from ideal, but if you squint hard enough, there's enough wiggle room to improve. There's still time with the latter, too, but the margin for error is much thinner moving forward.

The Sharks experienced that difference firsthand after Tuesday’s 5-2 win over the Montreal Canadiens. It's not an ideal record, but they’ve managed to salvage a poor start. 

There are still some flaws, to be sure. The power play isn't just the Kevin Labanc show after the top unit scored all three power play goals Tuesday, but is still carrying a disproportionate offensive load. The penalty kill’s scoreless streak came to an end, but they were called into action six times.

Despite all that, Tuesday's win was San Jose’s best effort this season. Brent Burns, Logan Couture, Joe Pavelski, and Joe Thornton all had multi-point games for the first time this year. Martin Jones had another strong game, and appears to have shaken off his slow start.

In short, San Jose’s game is headed in the right direction. It needs to be, with a five-game road trip beginning on Friday. 

Now comes the hard part.

It's on the road where we’ll get our best sense of who this team really is. Peter DeBoer won’t have the benefit of last change, and won't be able to dictate matchups. 

Under these circumstances, we’ll begin to really see if Joakim Ryan is ready for a top-four role, whether Kevin Labanc is a viable first-line winger, and how the rest of the young reinforcements stack up. They will have less time off, too, as all but one game occurs after one day (or less) of rest and travel. That missed practice time isn't ideal for any team, let alone one still trying to work out the kinks.

Fortunately, the competition is forgiving, at least on paper. Other than the Devils, none of the Sharks’ four other road trip opponents have winning records as of this writing. The topsy turvy nature of the standings, though, show how little “on paper” means this early in the season.

We’ll know a lot more about who these San Jose Sharks are by the time their road trip ends. Their record still won't tell the whole story, but by then, they'll have played about an eighth of the season. 

And by then, we’ll have a much better idea of how good this team really is.

Sharks' offense comes alive, leads charge in win over Canadiens


Sharks' offense comes alive, leads charge in win over Canadiens


SAN JOSE — Logan Couture credited a teammate for scoring his second goal. He took credit for the first one.

Couture scored a pair of goals and the San Jose Sharks extended their dominance of the Montreal Canadiens with a 5-2 victory on Tuesday night.

Joe Pavelski and Tomas Hertl also scored for the Sharks, who have won the past 11 home games against the Canadiens, a streak that dates to Nov. 23, 1999.

On a power play late in the third period, rookie Tim Heed took a shot off a face-off that bounced free in front of the net. Pavelski couldn't get his stick on it but managed to kick it across the net for Couture, who found a huge opening.

"That was pretty special," Couture said. "I don't know if he knew I was there but he kept his balance and kicked it over."

Couture opened the scoring 3:30 into the first period, grabbing a rebound off the back board, skating across the front of the net to get Price to commit and then firing into an open net.

Jonathan Drouin and Shea Weber scored for the Canadiens, who are winless since an opening night victory at the Buffalo Sabres.

"It's a very poor start from our team, from myself, from a lot of individuals," Canadiens' Max Pacioretty said. "It's a good time to look in the mirror and see what we're made of because a lot of people are probably doubting this team right now."

Martin Jones stopped 28 of 30 shots for the Sharks, who finish their season-opening homestand with a 2-3 record.

"The biggest thing is finding that energy for the whole game," Jones said. "We started OK and then we got better as the night went on."

Carey Price, who stopped 31 of 35 shots, fell to 2-7-1 in 10 games against the Sharks.

The Canadiens responded 36 seconds later when Drouin picked up a pass from Artturi Lehkonen close in and fired it over Jones' left shoulder and into the net.

Pavelski gave the Sharks the lead for good when he redirected Kevin Labanc's shot just under a minute into the second period. The shot hit Weber's left shin pad and bounced into the net.

"There were a lot of good things out there," Pavelski said. "We didn't have the homestand we wanted but we can leave on a positive note to take on the road."

Hertl padded the lead midway through the second on a power play. Standing on the right side of the net, he was trying to control a pass from Joe Thornton but the puck fluttered off his stick and got behind Price.

"I'll take it any way I can get it," Hertl said. "There are times I've had great shots that just bounced off the post."

Weber's power-play goal two minutes later kicked off Jones' skates for the score.

The Sharks needed five seconds to score on a power play late in the second period. Tim Heed shot on goal and it bounced off Pavelski's skate. Couture picked it up and found a huge opening.

NOTES: After allowing three power play goals over their first five penalty kills, the Sharks killed off 14 straight until Weber scored in the second period. ... Couture recorded his 24th career multi-goal game. ... Sharks D Tim Heed recorded his first NHL point with an assist on Couture's power-play goal. ... Brendan Gallagher needs one assist for 100 with the Canadiens.


Canadiens: plays at the Los Angeles Kings on Wednesday in their second back-to-back of the season.

Sharks: open a five-game road trip on the east coast with a game at the New Jersey Devils on Friday.